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Costa Rican centrist set for election win

Citizen Action Party candidate Luis Guillermo Solis is the only actively running candidate in the election run-off.

Last updated: 06 Apr 2014 07:48
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Luis Guillermo Solis was ranked a distant fourth by pollsters before the first round of voting in February [AP]

A center-left academic, who has never been elected to office is expected to easily win Costa Rica's presidential election run-off on Sunday, after his ruling party rival unexpectedly ditched his bid last month.

Luis Guillermo Solis, a former diplomat, rode a wave of anti-government sentiment over rising inequality and corruption scandals to finish ahead in a first round of voting in February, surprising pollsters who had placed him fourth.

We want Costa Rica to present itself as a country that is friendly to foreign investment, offering legal security but requiring compliance with labor laws

Luis Guillermo Solis, presidential candidate

"We want to recover that sense of solidarity, of social inclusion, and commitment to the neediest Costa Ricans that has been lost," Solis, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), told a press conference on Saturday, according to Reuters news agency. 

Solis has promised to fight Costa Rica's high poverty rate while stamping out corruption, an issue that has dogged President Laura Chinchilla's administration.

Facing a depleted war chest, his ruling party rival Johnny Araya quit campaigning after an opinion poll showed him trailing badly.

No candidate won the more than 40 percent of votes needed in February to avoid a run-off, paving the way for Sunday's vote.

Araya's name remains on the ballot, however, because the constitution prevents him from withdrawing.

The PLN, meanwhile, continues to appeal for Araya votes
"for dignity's sake", according to AFP news agency.

Voter absenteeism

A prosecutor's probe into allegations of abuse of authority and embezzlement while Araya was mayor of San Jose made it hard for the former front-runner to distance himself from party scandals.

A University of Costa Rica survey last month showed Solis had more than 64 percent support while Araya trailed with around 21 percent.

Within hours, Araya said he would no longer campaign.

But Solis faces hurdles of his own. Threatened by high rates of absenteeism typical of second-round voting and the looming challenge of a divided Congress, Solis could end up with a weak mandate.

His PAC will have just 13 of the 57 seats in Congress.

Though Costa Rica's growing debt stands at over half of gross domestic product, Solis has said he will wait two years before raising taxes despite promises to boost social spending.

Solis also has said he hopes to attract new businesses to set up shop in Costa Rica's free-trade zones, which have enticed the likes of Hewlett Packard.

"We want Costa Rica to present itself as a country that is friendly to foreign investment, offering legal security but requiring compliance with labor laws," Solis said.

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